As a child I was not close with my father. Suffering from poor health and a heart attack that occurred early in my childhood, my father rarely had time for me. He was always in-and-out of the hospital. While he said he would play catch with me, build me a tree house, or do typical father-son activities, it was always planned after a nap. A nap that he never seemed to wake up from. For this fact, I always resented him. Much of our time together was spent in silence or arguing. He always said he was “dealt a bad hand in life,” and I argued he simply needed to “reshuffle the deck.” Our worldview rarely aligned. When he died in January 2017, it was in many ways a relief. I no longer had to try at a relationship that felt hallow, and he no longer had to struggle with the pains of ill health.
In the days, weeks, months, and years since his death, my father seems more alive and more present with me than he ever did in our shared 26 years of life. On a painfully hot day this past summer while walking the Camino de Santiago through northern Spain, a cool breeze shivered through the air. The day began walking alone feeling sunburned, weak, and blistered, but gradually as the wind blew I was strengthen by the companionship of the wind and memories of long days outside in the yard with my father. The material distance of space and time were no longer confined to Louisville, Kentucky.
This is Deep Incarnation and Resurrection Theology.
Niels Henrik Gregersen writes in the chapter, The Extended Body of Christ, “Deep incarnation… presupposes a radical embodiment that reaches into the roots of material and biological existence as well as into the darker sides of creation.”1 If we, as Roman Catholics, are to believe that “the Word became flesh and lived among us,” then we must recognize that this flesh is an organic and living substance that cannot exist independently (John 1:14). “The sarx of John 1:14,” as Elizabeth Johnson writes, “reaches beyond the person of Jesus… to encompass the whole biological world of living creatures and the cosmic dust of which they were composed.”2
As a living, breathing flesh, Jesus would be included in the four billion years of our cosmic existence. The fluid flowing through his veins would be fueled by the ever-flowing waters of the Mediterranean and the endlessly connected seas and oceans. His tissue and his bones would be comprised of the proteins and minerals that were sourced from the animals and vegetation of the land. Writing in terms that a child could understand, “you are what you eat.” The life and energy of Jesus was made possible by the agrarian history that led to his birth and sustained him through his eventual death on the cross. To say that Jesus was a Galilean, would not simply imply his nationality, but also his composition and eventual decomposition. Rudimentary knowledge of the Law of the Conservation of Mass and Energy reminds us that matter and energy is neither created nor destroyed, it only changes form. As such, the matter and energy of the Logos of God that became incarnate in Jesus was made possible by the matter and energy that came millenniums prior.
Gregersen argues that deep incarnation “concerns God’s eternal Logos/Wisdom who became one with the life story of Jesus in order to accomplish a new level of union between creator and creatures.”3 This unity suggests a continual relationship between the Creator and the Created through the never ending process of evolution. Therefore, the matter and energy that was alive in the life of Jesus persists today. His bodily form has been shed, his physical existence returned to the Earth, “the extended body of Christ is risen from the grave in order to be present as a comprehensive body living for and suffering with all other bodies.”4
We cannot deny the physical existence of Jesus, enough historical records have been discovered to cooperate this biblical hero. Moreover, science also accounts for the ever-connected flow of life that binds all creation. Etched into the grounds of Villanova University upon the statue of Gregor Johann Mendel, the Augustinian Scientist bridges that gap between Theology and Science in his 1878 Easter Sermon, “We share life with all living creatures; the life of faith we share with Christ who is Life itself.” As believers of faith, it is up to us, as Gregersen suggests, to transition the story of the incarnation of Jesus beyond “the short lifetime of Mary’s son.”5
Walking along northern Spain, it can seem improbably that I felt connected to and comforted by a man, who in life felt distant, yet deep incarnational and resurrectional theology suggests precisely that connection. For if the incarnation and resurrection are true events, we cannot bind them to finite moments. Rather we must consider that these “events and processes…are impinging on every moment and epoch in history, and are close to every place in the vast cosmic space.”6
The incarnation of God becoming alive as “an anonymous and unimportant man in a very unimportant place,” as Thomas Merton writes in the concluding chapter of New Seeds of Contemplation, binds God to all humanity.7 If we are to believe in the incarnation, as Merton writes, “Christ became [Human], because He wanted to be any [human] and every [human]… there should be no one on Earth in whom we are not prepared to see, in mystery, the presence of Christ.”8 This mysterious unity of Christ, alive in all humanity, gives rise to the incarnational unity celebrated in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, Roman Catholics believe that through the process of transubstantiation the bread and the wine are converted into the body and blood of Christ. If we, as Catholics, are to uphold and carry this belief, then we must also believe that through the consumption of the Eucharistic meal, we each become the living presence of the resurrected Christ. “You are what you eat.” Just as the life and energy of Jesus was made possible by the agrarian history of his time, the life and energy of Roman Catholics is made possible through the Eucharistic meal.
Breathing the same air that flows through the lungs of every living creature. Drinking the same water that rains down upon all life. Shining beneath the same Sun that energies the solar system. Sharing in the Eucharistic meal of the body and blood of Christ. Through these finite moments our infinite cosmic story is woven. Just as I felt reunited with my father in a moment in space and time that he could not physically exist, so too does Christ’s presence transcend finite moments. In the Logos of Christ and through the life-giving spirit of God we are woven into one “community with God for whom there is no difference.”9 If we can allow ourselves to lean into this mystery and “let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all” then we might finally allow ourselves to join in the “cosmic dance” of the deeply incarnated and resurrected Christ.10
- Henrik, Gregersen Niels. “The Extended Body of Christ: Three Dimensions of Deep Incarnation.” In Incarnation: On the Scope and Depth of Christology, edited by Gregersen Niels Henrik, 225-52. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, n.d.
- Johnson, Elizabeth A. “Jesus and the Cosmos: Soundings in Deep Christology.” In Incarnation: On the Scope and Depth of Christology, edited by Niels Henrik Gregersen, 138. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, n.d.
- Henrik, 226.
- Henrik, 249.
- Henrik, 250.
- Henrik, 251.
- Merton, Thomas. “The General Dance.” In Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master, edited by Lawrence S Cunningham, 251–56. New York: Paulist Press, n.d.
- Merton, 255.
- Henrik, 251.
- Merton, 256.